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Schools without violence Egypt
With Dialogue against School Violence

Gewaltfreie Schule
Foto: Islam Safwat © Goethe-Institut

Students are given three cards to express their feelings: a red card for negative and a green card for positive feelings, while a yellow card indicates uncertainty about how they feel. However, the most important thing is that they understand that they can share their feelings with us any time.

By Aya Nabil

“Emotion cards” were among the materials introduced in the training workshop “Fit for Life – Fit for Differences” of the Goethe-Institut Cairo, held from 14 to 23 April this year and attended by 21 psychologists and social workers from Egyptian public schools. It provided participants with techniques to deal with aggressive and other problematic student behaviour, encouraging them to pass on this newly acquired knowledge to colleagues in other Egyptian governorates.
The Goethe-Institut, in cooperation with the Bremen Institute of Education and Psychology and the Egyptian Ministry of Education, organised this workshop for the second year in a row as part of their “Dialogue & Transition” programme in the Middle East and North Africa, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.
In addition, 14 participants of last year’s workshop, who had already facilitated the training of over 6.000 multipliers in more than 18 governorates, received a master class training. This advanced module served to evaluate the “Fit for Life” activities they had organised so far and discuss methods of more effective implementation of the programme in the future.
When Conventional Methods Fail
In her work as a psychological consultant at schools in South-Sinai, Sahar Ahmad has spent years trying to tackle negative and violent behaviour of students through what she describes as “traditional” and mostly ineffective methods. But things improved after she had completed the “Fit for Life” workshop, as she recalls: “I have adopted specific methods that have greatly changed the way I organise sessions with my students. And I do feel motivated to pass on this knowledge to colleagues in my governorate, so they can apply it too.”
Over the course of five days, participants like Sahar were trained on the basics of innovative education and non-violent teaching methods, based on the “Fit for Life” concept. At the heart of the concept are models of communication with children and adolescents, facilitation techniques, constructive feedback skills and intercultural competencies, all aiming to provide students with the space and opportunities to speak freely about their thoughts and feelings in a safe and carefully moderated context. As prospective trainers, participants are further introduced to the fundamentals of efficient planning, effective time management, and fair rule-setting for trainings.
A number of problems and challenges observed by participants at their schools, such as lack of self-restraint, behavioural problems, and violence, were discussed to explore solutions for their long-term reduction and correction.
Workshop facilitator Holger Hegekötter particularly emphasised the importance of clearly distinguishing “Fit for Life” sessions from the ordinary school lessons children and adolescents know as their routine. This could be achieved by including warm-ups and relaxation exercises, changing the seating arrangement from narrow rows to a large circle of chairs, and avoiding conventional punishments – in fact, avoiding the word “punishment” in general and replacing it with a more favourable world like “consequence.”
“I believe our trainees can provide an important incentive for change and greater freedom of expression at Egyptian schools. Many of them were able to shift the obstacles in their way to their advantage,” says Holger. “Meeting our former participants once more and listening to the accounts of their experiences really helped me to understand Egyptian society better. It enables me to respond more adequately to challenges faced by future participants and to develop the programme further with each cycle.”
Challenging, Yet not Irredeemable
Social worker Magda Eid completed the “Fit for Life” workshop last year, implemented the programme in her workplace, a public girls’ school in the Gizah Governorate, and joined other social workers and psychologists in this year’s advanced training. On the last day of the workshop, participants were called upon to speak about their efforts to roll out “Fit for Life” at their schools, which was commented on and evaluated by Holger Hegekötter.
Magda recalls that, in the past, she had tried to dissuade her students from inappropriate or violent behaviour by talking at them, rather than with them, which was unsuccessful. Her students were “bored,” as she says. Things changed when she began adopting the “Fit for Life” methods: „My students are no longer annoyed when I speak to them. I deal and talk things through with each one of them individually and seriously.”
She adds, “In the beginning, the programme was met with disapproval, as school officials did not fully understand the goal and advantage of the programme. Over time, however, I found ways to integrate the methodology and was ultimately able to convince them that it was in the best interest of the students and not a waste of time.”
Through the sessions, Magda also became aware of personal problems that students were struggling with. But, more importantly, she was now also able to put forward constructive solutions in order to help the girls.
Fair Conditions for Dialogue
One of the great advantages of the “Fit for Life” programme is its practicability, as workshops do not require more than paper, pens, and colours. Even under the difficult circumstances of overcrowded classrooms and low school budgets, the programme allows for innovative and creative interventions.
Hanan Ibrahim, psychologist and social pedagogue from the head office of the Egyptian Ministry of Education, is pleased with the growing number of graduates of the training programme that could reach more and more students at Egyptian schools. Trainees could pass on their knowledge to other colleagues beyond the borders of their own governorate and thus expand violence prevention measures step by step in schools throughout Egypt.
Project coordinator Marie Sacher says that the fight against violence would continue and expand by training teachers, headmasters, and other relevant actors in the school system. The Goethe-Institut and the Ministry of Education were currently in the process of tailoring a training programme for physical education teachers, based on the assumption that violent attitudes could be mitigated through physical activity. She concludes, “The training opportunities we offer aim to create a pleasant and safe school environment for students of all ages, where they are treated with respect and enjoy the freedom to speak openly and constructively about their feelings and thoughts. There should be no more room for violence.”